,Mail Art and Politics
One thing tha many mail artist always like to stress when talking about their activities (although many others don't seem to agree) is that the communicative aspect is far more important than art for art’s sake, and collaboration is one of the key words in the Network, whose ultimate goal is building a sort of alternative approach to culture. This is a practice that the advent of the Internet has amplified to enormous proportions. All these different but often overlapping networks share many strategies and the common principle that “if the Establishment ignores us, we can easily do without it.”
One notable consequence of this approach is that many mail artists are socially and/or politically committed and strive to include these issues in their activity. Here are two examples of the innumerable projects that are constantly being organised. Both of them where started by me (you will excuse me for showing off a little bit …).
Fighting Back - Stop Violence against Women was born because I’m a member of Amnesty International, the worldwide voluntary activist movement working for human rights. At the end of every year, AI Japan reports on its state of health, and the recurring theme in recent years has been that we are constantly losing members and in this country, AI has become more or less an invisible entity. So we felt the need to enhance our public image, trying, in the process, to lure more people into our ranks.
When another member pointed out that the 2004-2006 worldwide campaign would have focused on domestic violence against women, as well as violence in conflict and post conflict, we decided to ask mail artists for help. This, by the way, is by no means the first time that AI and the Network have joined hands to address specific problems (other topics tackled in the past have been torture and the death penalty). A task group was formed, with me concentrating on the mail art part of the project (writing the call, spreading the word, and instructing the others on how to collect and catalogue the incoming works) while other people looked for a suitable venue for the exhibition, invited experts and activists to talk, and organised other collateral activities.
All in all we were able to gather more than 250 contributions from all over the world, including postcards, collages, drawings, photographs, etc, and even local artists, who usually are not active in the mail art network, lent or donated paintings, sculptures and embroidery. The show was a huge success and it travelled to several cities.
Now that this part of the project is over, we are left with hundreds of copies of the catalogue. This is a beautiful, full-color, full-sized 24 page booklet, printed on glossy paper, containing a wide range of the works received, plus brief introductions to Amnesty International, mail art and the theme of the exhibition. If you are interested in visual arts and/or violence against women, or you simply want to help AI Japan to recover at least a part of the expenses, please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) One copy costs $5 to $7 on a sliding scale, postpaid worldwide. Please pay what you can afford and remember that it’s for a just cause.
Mail artists usually interact either by participating in big international exhibitions or on a one-to-one basis. The AI project was an example of the first type. The next project I’d like to describe belongs to the second and is a perfect example of what I like most in mail art: the many possibilities to collaborate and interact with a wide network of like-minded people.
It all started in 1998, when – as a contribution to Vittore Baroni’s Year of Incongruous Meetings – I made a couple of fake election campaign posters (it was election time in Japan) and briefly put them on the same billboard near my house where all the local candidates had put their ugly faces. The idea behind this action was that political elections have become a farce and are almost useless to really change society. It’s a rat race in which every candidate only aims at joining the elite and share power and money. The election posters they make in Japan are particularly cheesy and phoney and you can often see the horrible truth behind the candidates’ smiling masks. After that isolated performance, I decided to start a project, that I called The True Face of Politics, in which I invited some of my friends to make and send me their posters. I collected several works, but once it came to put them on the billboards, I realised I couldn’t do everything by myself, and the people who had offered to help, suddenly became unavailable. I can’t really blame them: after all, what I wanted to do was illegal, and to challenge authority while you live in a foreign country isn’t really a sane thing to do.
This way, the project became a sleeper, and has been kept on hold until now. A couple of years ago I finally found the time and energy to start working on it again, and was lucky to find a group of networkers who were all too happy to collaborate. So I made copies of the posters and sent them to Australia, China, Uruguay, and the US, where each one of my friends did what he or she wanted (or could do: the Shanghai part of the project was for obvious reasons a more private/secret thing).
When everything was over, my collaborators sent me the documentation they had produced (reports, photos, etc.) and now I’m finally putting everything together and producing the final doc, that will be included in my zine KAIRAN. Let me know if you want to order a copy of the forthcoming issue #13.